Saturday, July 30, 2011

Episode 16 - Come, Let's Play a Story Together!

Admit it. Sometimes when you're reading a book, you wish you could jump in and spend some time in that world. This episode, Tim and Nick discuss formats in which you ARE the main character of a story—Choose Your Own Adventures, video games, and other forms of interactive fiction!

Also this episode, a very special Cinema Selections. Let's just say this: '80s fantasy meets German expressionism in a film Tim has been long overdue in experiencing. Was it worth the wait?

Find out in this extra-long, wide-ranging episode of Derailed Trains of Thought!


Show Notes

Loading the player ...


  1. Great job, guys. Very enjoyable episode. I remember Beclouse! And Tim's cool, confusing campaign. :D

    I remember Choose Your Own Adventure books, too. Whenever we went to the library when I was a kid I would always pick up at least two or three. Sometimes I would sit in the library and read a first pass-through while waiting for my mom to finish whatever she was doing.

    I would always read through the first time as myself, choosing the choices that I would make. (And trying to be honest with myself, not choosing the one that was obviously braver or showed more character if it wasn't something I would actually do.) Then I would go through and try to find every single path. And then, if I liked the book a lot, I would read through it again, from front to back, trying to see where the plot threads fit together. I guess even then I was analyzing my fiction in a rudimentary way.

    But man, why'd you have to play those particular clips from Neverending Story? I got teary-eyed. Again! As always!

    I bought the book and got about two-thirds through before I lost interest/time. I was in college at that point and had a lot of things vying for my attention. I'd really like to try it again sometime.

    And how dare you bag on Labyrinth. I love that movie.

    Can't wait for the Harry Potter special!

  2. Laura - I've heard from several people that the book of "The Never-ending Story" was just, well, never-ending. I really enjoyed it, but it does not have a strong narrative drive. (I guess, like the movie, it is more like scenes linked together.)

    Very interesting about how you used to read Choose Your Own Adventures. I don't think I was ever that analytical.

  3. Thanks Laura! Oftentimes, I also read Choose Your Own Adventure that way. I also liked trying to purposefully pick the dumbest choices possible and seeing where that would lead me. (Usually a bad ending.)

    It occurred to me while I was editing the episode that all the sound clips I was using might make NeverEnding Story sound sad and depressing! Sorry about that! I tried to include some uplifting music as well, so I hope that helped.

    Oh and don't get us wrong: Nick and I love Labyrinth too for all its nuttiness and amazing setting. (Plus, the puppetry in either of Jim Henson's fantasy films is almost certainly superior to that in NeverEnding Story.) I was just trying to say that NeverEnding Story seems to be remembered more often by more people than Labyrinth. And coming from a hardcore Jim Henson fan, that's a generous concession. ;-) But I could be wrong. Who could ever forget David Bowie's magic pants?

  4. That's a valid point about the sound clips possibly making the film seem sad. Many of the best moments in the film are scary, sad, and powerful, but that's the power of German expressionism. In a way, if a mere clip from a film can give you that much feeling, and then you know it's a great film.

    When reviewing the film before the podcast, I noticed how there would be one powerful and emotionally taxing scene which would then be followed by one or two lighter scenes. Once we have recovered some, there is another emotionally strong scene. The pacing of the scenes continues this pattern for pretty much the whole movie. One issue is that the scenes that give you some emotional breathing room in between aren't all that "happy" either. Sometimes we just learn about another part of Fantasia or we see another part of Bastian's activities in the attic of the school. Wolfgang Petersen directed Das Boot (1981) (I saw the uncut version: 293 minutes) before he made this film, so he knows how to make movies and how to set the pace.

    The method I decided to employ when clipping from The NeverEnding Story was to pick the most high-emotion points of the film, with a high amount of music directly from the soundtrack to bring the mood up some.

    At the outset, I didn't want to record the infamous horse scene, but I then realized it was probably the best scene in the film. When I say best, I mean the most moving and the most remembered scene. I had a tough time when I was recording the clip because it affected me quite a bit. Each time I saw the clip and listened to it, it gave me more respect for the film. Not only is the music completely appropriate for the film, but it includes an organ, which adds gravity. The music even reaches a gradual crescendo towards the end of the scene. Germany and German expressionism live on. Additionally, I think the horse scene was a hard scene to create. I say this because it seems like you have to have everything work together - the music, the atmosphere, the acting has to be not too much and not too little. Creating mood like this is harder than it looks. They were really shooting for something higher than mere entertainment with this film.

    I like Labyrinth too, but this film hit me much harder and it's for all of the reasons I stated above. The NeverEnding Story would have been more like Labyrinth if The Nothing didn't exist and we were just exploring Fantasia, which would have been fun. Labyrinth just doesn't pull the punches that this does.

    I once saw a silent film that showed a woman who barely had a part in the film at all, and it showed her being sad about something and the way she conveyed it made tears come to my eyes instantly. I was then immediately shocked. I pressed pause thinking, "Did I just have that big of a reaction? But she only had that face for a few seconds!" That's the way The NeverEnding Story hits me. The scene where Atreyu looks at all of the murals before his fight with Gmork is amazing too, because the film literally reviews the emotional snapshots in snapshot form – making my case that the film is exactly that: A series of emotional snapshots. All I have to do is see the painting of Gmork the wolf and it scares me to this day (that’s the scariest image in the movie for me by the way). All I have to do is see the gate with the two sphinxes and I get goose bumps all over me. All I have to see is the Rock Biter lamenting over the loss of his friends, and it makes me think, "Never. Give. Up.” And that’s the purpose of the film. Quite a high purpose indeed.

  5. Guess who's back? Nate! Now begins my commenting blitzkrieg!

    Since everyone else talked about "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, I'll talk about video games.

    A recent game I played to see how the story played out was the new "Mortal Kombat," which had a strangely compelling (and long) story mode. What made it work was the mystery of a warning the thunder-god Raiden received from his future self that said, "He must win." The question of who that is isn't answered until the end.

    Another game series with a great story is "Shenmue," which was originally on the Sega Dreamcast. It's an immersive revenge tale. Sadly, the series was cut short and ended on a cliffhanger. One day I hope the story is finished somehow, even if it isn't in a game.

    While I haven't played it yet, I hear the PS3 game "Heavy Rain" really blurs the line between movie and game. The "gameplay" is just pressing the indicated buttons at certain times to continue or change the scene.

    I've played and beaten "Shadow of the Colossus," and I have to say the story isn't as simple as it seems. I would argue it's fairly ambiguous, and that ambiguity adds depth. For one thing, what relationship does the hero have to the girl he's trying to save? Are they lovers? Siblings? Friends? Second, is he righteous in killing the giants? Most of them aren't aggressive until you wound them. Some even appear intelligent. It's up to the player to fill in the blanks. Although, I will say that the ending is trippy and just as ambiguous.

    A few more quick notes:
    -The "NeverEnding Story" sequels are pale reflections of the original. The second one is passable, but the third is a joke.
    -Which Godzilla movie were you referring to, Brian? I ask because I'm a fan of those films, and I couldn't place the one you mentioned.

  6. It's been awhile since this podcast - can you refresh my memory on what I was saying about the Godzilla film?